Are you looking to remove the clean and add a bit of lo-fi grit and vintage flavor to your sound? Here are a few tricks to add analog imperfections, mechanical modulations, and that warm nostalgic vibe to your sound.
Download these free presets for the Kramer Master Tape, J37 and Abbey Road Vinyl plugins:
Creating lo-fi music in the digital realm is all about inducing the flavor of analog imperfections, tape machine modulations and the colorations caused by worn equipment and mechanical artifacts. Go easy on the salt thought! You want to go subtle with these lo-fi seasonings. Too much can completely ruin that classic dish you’re trying to serve.
1. Create lo-fi pianos and keys using tape simulation
Hitting your pianos or keyboard instruments with a little detuned, vintage vibe or retro wobble can give your track that warm and nostalgic feeling all over. Add old-school life and take your virtual MIDI instrument tracks back in time to an old-fashioned dimension by dialing in a few simple parameters of the Kramer Master Tape plugin:
2. Add more wow & flutter tape effects
What was once an unwanted mechanical byproduct of analog tape is now what we seek when we want that lo-fi character. If you grew up listening to music on a cassette deck, Walkman or boombox then you know the sound. If not, sorry, but you missed countless hours of rewinding, fast-forwarding, and waiting forever to catch your favorite song on the record to add to your mixtape.
Wow and flutter are the trick to that analog tape sound. They are the modulations and fluctuations created by the friction of the mechanical parts of the tape machine and the tape itself. One way to get into even greater detail with wow & flutter and tape simulation effects is using the J37 Tape plugin:
For additional lo-fi character:
3. Add vintage vinyl noise & crackle
There’s nothing like the sound of that vinyl fuzz and the clicks and pops of a needle on a groove. That authentic vinyl crackle sounds add a nice vintage vibe and makes you feel like you’re listening through an old record player. You could go for the quick fix of using a sample of turntable noise or clicks. But having the control and ability to fine-tune those vinyl characteristics gives your track much more life and added authenticity. One of the easiest ways to inject the feeling of true vinyl in-the-box is with the Abbey Road Vinyl plugin:
Start by making your settings as lo-fi as possible:
I may sound like a broken record, but again, the trick with vinyl effects is to be subtle. Just as with tape machine emulation, adding a little goes a long way. Make sure to check out the built-in slow-down/stop mechanism, which always comes in handy for those breaks and pauses in the track.
4. Create lo-fi radio filters & underwater effects
Another essential method of adding lo-fi texture to your tracks is the use of the classic radio EQ effect. Or in other words, recreating the sound of a crappy old clock radio speaker. You know…those things we all used to wake up to before our smartphones!
Some call it the underwater filter effect. Others call it the ‘telephone’ effect. Whatever you call it, this trick can give your mix a nice low fidelity touch. The traditional and common approach to achieving this effect involves either grabbing an EQ, rolling off the lows in the 200-300 Hz range, and cutting the highs between 2-3 kHz. There’s also the approach of re-amping, or running the signal through an old-school tape player, sampler, or guitar amp and then mixing that back into the DAW.
But by going lo-fi, you’ve already decided to go the path less taken. So why not go all the way by customizing a unique atmosphere and impression to your lo-fi textures. You can get even more creative with the lo-fi radio trick using a combination of amp simulation with the PRS SuperModels amp sim plugin, and the sound-shaping filter effects of the MetaFilter plugin:
You can put a unique spin on the radio/telephone effect by customizing the rhythm of your filters with more movement and tons of analog life. MetaFilter is a sound-shaping filter that combines classic analog filters with modern sweeping, gating and ducking effects:
The trick to creating a lo-fi vintage vibe into your tracks is to do it subtly across your individual tracks. It's the subtle analog imperfections, mechanical modulations and nostalgic warmth that make the lo-fi sound so special. The key to getting that pretty gritty sound is dialing in just enough character, without overdoing it. Just remember you don’t need to go too high to get lo-fi!